Cubs seem stocked with promising prospects
Infielder Baez part of talented core viewed as potential impact players in Majors
CHICAGO -- Cubs fans have heard about the so-called core four of top prospects -- Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler -- and on Sunday, the discussion was on some of the other players in the organization who also could have an impact.
During a seminar on the Minor League system on the final day of the Cubs Convention, player development and scouting director Jason McLeod talked about some of the other prospects.
When he was in charge of the Red Sox and Padres' Minor League systems, McLeod said they always felt good about having one or two players who had the potential to make an impact in the big leagues. The Cubs appear to have more than that.
"The players who have been discussed and talked a lot about, we have multiple guys who have the ability to get there and be stars," McLeod said. "That makes me feel really good. History tells me that not all of them will become the player we think they're going to be or that they could be, but we have more volume of those impact type players. That makes you feel good as an organization."
Baez, 21, has gotten the most attention, especially after his stellar 2013 season in which he combined to hit 37 home runs, drive in 111 runs and bat .282 at Class A Advanced Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. How popular is the shortstop? About two minutes after the exhibition hall opened at the Cubs Convention on the first day, Friday, a fan was at the Tennessee Smokies booth to buy a game-used Baez jersey.
The Cubs already have a young shortstop in Starlin Castro, who turns 24 in March. This spring, Baez may get some playing time at second base, depending on what McLeod, his staff and Cubs manager Rick Renteria want to do.
"Our goal for Javy is to have him play shortstop for as long as he possibly can," McLeod said on Sunday. "He certainly has some things to clean up with the errors that were made last year."
The Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick in 2011, Baez made 44 errors combined last season. He'll open this year at Triple-A Iowa, McLeod said.
Some past Cubs' first-round picks have struggled. Brett Jackson, 25, the No. 1 selection in 2009, and Josh Vitters, 24, the first-round pick in 2007, both battled injuries last season. Jackson batted .210 in 95 games, while Vitters hit .267 in 33 games.
"They did not stay on the field long enough, first and foremost," McLeod said. "We still have belief in both of them, especially a guy like Josh. He was drafted in 2007, and you've heard his name so much, you'd probably think he's 26 years old or 25 years old. When he was on the field, the performance was pretty good. He was born to hit and he's always hit. There were other parts of his game that we felt he had to work on."
Vitters is no longer considered a third baseman but focusing on playing left field. He and Jackson will be in the Cubs' Spring Training camp.
"They both took this offseason to regroup, get healthy, and they'll both be in camp here in a couple weeks," McLeod said.
The Cubs also have some standout players who haven't gotten the attention like Baez, Vitters or Jackson. Dustin Geiger is one. He batted .281 with 17 homers, 28 doubles and 86 RBIs at Daytona.
"He's a guy who has flown under the radar," McLeod said. "He's had two pretty good seasons back to back. ... He's a big physical right-handed power bat who has got lost somewhat because he played on a team with Javy Baez last year.
"[Geiger] is certainly not under the radar with us, but I think because of all the other names that people read and want to talk about, he doesn't get the recognition he's earned over the last two years."
The Cubs also are eager to see what third baseman Mike Olt, 25, can do now that he appears to have corrected the vision problems that bothered him. Acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal in July, Olt batted .213 at Triple-A Round Rock last season. He's been taking allergy medication, which has helped his vision, and was training in Mesa, Ariz., at the Cubs facility. Once untouchable in the trade market, Olt is an "athletic, strong guy who can play third base," McLeod said.
"I think we'll see pretty early in camp just how the things he's done in the offseason have had an effect," McLeod said.
McLeod said Christian Villanueva, who took part in the rookie development program this past week, may be the best defensive third baseman in the organization. Another third baseman worth watching is Jeimer Candelario, 20, who batted .256 at Class A Kane County.
McLeod was on the Red Sox's staff when they won World Series championships in 2004 and '07. The latter team had nine players who were either drafted or signed internationally. The Cubs are trying to develop their own homegrown talent to achieve that kind of success.
"That's really exciting and that's what drives us," McLeod said.